Got Pork?

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Most Americans probably remember the famous California milk campaign from 1993, “Got Milk?”  The ad encouraged Americans to drink more cow’s milk, purporting it improved nutrition, and led to an impressive increase particularly in California dairy milk sales.  It also spawned the beginning of a long and successful advertising campaign that would become one of the most parodied ad slogans in history, with non-profits such as PETA using it in their “Got Pus?” campaign in 2002 to combat the dairy industry.  The dairy industry used variations of the ad in recent years to slam soy milk, a direct competitor.

Always a bread lover, we now go through at least 2-3 loaves of bakery bread a week, plus a loaf of sandwich bread for lunches. Peanut butter, a staple for us in the US, comes in tiny jars and hovers around $4. We still buy it but have supplemented it with Nutella. The two combined? Amazing!  Doesn’t this make you wish you had MILK?

It’s fascinating to see just in my short lifetime (ok, so maybe it’s longer than I care to admit) how American public perception toward the dairy industry, agriculture, and our consumption of the products they provide has changed. Science, technology, education, and an increasingly globalized planet have raised awareness of the impact we have on our environment – our carbon footprint, if you will.

So how much thought do you give to what you eat every day and where and how it’s produced?  How much are you willing to pay for your favorite cut of meat or pound of veggies?  Or for that matter, how much do you pay for groceries every month?

Our average grocery bill in the US was about $200/month for the two of us.  If we were throwing a big party or going on an extended weekend trip, we’d splurge and spend closer to $300, usually with the difference spent on alcohol and road-trip snacks like beef jerky, an obvious road-trip staple.

We didn’t buy organic (too expensive) but tried to buy local whenever possible (have you hugged your local farmer today?)  We raked in an impressive amount of fruits & veggies with a decent sized garden each year, enjoyed a fairly constant supply of scrumptious homemade jam from my mother-in-law, and occasionally would supplement our meat supply with elk or venison from Trav’s brother (always appreciated).  Not only are groceries in the US cheaper than many places in the western world, but we lived in Oregon, sans sales tax.  A 5-dozen pack of eggs on sale at WINCO actually cost the advertised price of $3.98.

$3.98!!  That’s not even 7 cents per egg, people!

Brilliantly colored romanesco broccoli at Migros, a local co-op, looks inviting but doesn’t pass the “Rule of Halves.”

So how do the cost of groceries in Oregon rank with those in Switzerland? Click to Tweet

To compare, we saved our grocery receipts in Fribourg, Switzerland for the month of September.  The total was a whoppin’ 623.50 chf ($657.60).

We’ve noticed that prices on just about everything in the Switz are a minimum of twice as much as back home, so we’ve developed a habit of halving any price we see here to determine if it’s more or less than twice the cost of that item back home.  If it’s more than twice the cost, we tend to return it to the shelf, even if we really need/want it.  If it’s less than twice as much, the item has passed the test and it can come home with us, usually with one of us jokingly referencing the “Rule of Halves” in some way.

Despite this handy little coping mechanism, we were still dismayed by September’s total.  Moving here has made us take a long, hard look at our eating habits, then and now, and what we’re willing to pay for certain “luxuries,” like meat.

One of our grocery receipts from Aligro – note how it’s printed on a full-on sheet of paper? This receipt was 4 or 5 pages long, making me wonder why it was necessary to waste so much paper. It came out like a Bed, Bath & Beyond wedding registry list! Food items are taxed at 2.5%, which actually isn’t bad, but wine, beer, and hard alcohol are taxed at 8%.  Ouch!

How could we reduce our grocery bill?

Clearly, cutting out the wine was not an option.  Instead, we bought a pig!

Well, a quarter of a pig to be precise.

We agreed to go in on buying a whole pig from a local farmer, sharing the purchase with our neighbors, Carlos & Nicole, and a friend of theirs who connected them, and indirectly, us, with the farmer.  Carlos & Nicole visited the farm to see the hog, which had already been butchered and was being prepared for us.  We were able to request our preferred cuts of meat, choose how it would be packaged, and all of the meat was vacuum sealed, allowing us to freeze it for up to a year.

The cost?

While growing up in North Idaho, my mom often bought cow tongue because of its budget price. We’re surprised to see it in Switzerland.

Though it was still more expensive than what we paid for pork in the US, it was far cheaper than local meat in stores here.

It was actually also cheaper than the average price of purchasing a farm-direct hog in Oregon, which would cost about $6/lb (12.61 chf/kg).  The total for our quarter came to 142 chf ($149) for 21 kilos (46.29 lbs) of packaged pork, which boils down to the rock bottom price of $3.22/lb, or 6.77 chf/kg.

Not too shabby.

Does that mean we’re going to start mowing down defenseless local farm animals for our consumption?

Not exactly.

In fact, we’re still eating probably half as much meat as we ate in the States, partly because of the higher grocery store prices and partly because although I love meat (and I mean love – chicken, pork, beef, seafood, buffalo, bear – you name it, I think it tastes good), I’m not a total Neanderthal.

I understand that the world’s current meat consumption can’t be sustained at this rate, that Americans in general consume far more calories than we need, and that Americans eat more meat than any country except perhaps Hong Kong, depending on how you define “the most meat” – by calories, grams, per capita, etc.

I can’t imagine ever going vegan, but at least as long as we have a freezer full of pork and continue to adopt a more environmentally friendly reduced-meat diet, Wilbur can breathe a temporary sigh of relief.

Unfortunately for turkeys, though, Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

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